This fall, Bethany Huot, post-doc in the lab of Sheng Yang He, will start a new position as Instructor with the Department of Biological Sciences (BioSci) team at Michigan State University (MSU).
Bethany’s primary responsibility will be teaching four sections of an undergraduate Cell & Molecular biology laboratory course (BS 171). In addition, she will contribute to BioSci’s efforts to continue improving their curriculum. One of the reasons Bethany was chosen for the position was her ideas on what she calls “Strategic Career Management” and how they might be incorporated into the program.
Her mentor, Sheng Yang He, says, “It was a real pleasure to mentor Bethany during an important phase of her career. She is an accomplished scientist and a critical thinker, fearless in pursuing her dreams. With a sunny personality and exceptional communication skills, Bethany is taking a career path that few are capable of trying. We wish her all the best.”
Following are excerpts of an interview with Bethany.
How does a person whose career has been focused in scientific research end up getting a position in education?
The short answer: community impact. My life has always been influenced by the communities around me. As an undergrad, I really began to feel the impact that community can have on one’s career. I had a great mentor who gave me broad opportunities to explore that most do not get. As a result, I discovered my passion for scientific research and teaching, but I knew I did not want a tenure track faculty position.
Not knowing what position was the best fit, I spent time building experience and skills outside of academia, including three years at the Dow Chemical Company. There, my love for science was deepened but the opportunity to pursue it at the level I wanted was limited. So, with the support of my community there I came to MSU to get my PhD. While every community has its positives and negatives, these experiences forced me to start viewing education as a part of my career and to approach it more strategically.
What is “Strategic Career Management?” How does that fit in with your career goals?
It initially grew out of my experiences: my undergrad mentor encouraged me to evaluate and adjust my path, my mentors at Dow encouraged me to pursue my passion and adjust accordingly, Sheng Yang supported me to pursue things “beyond the bench.” Then, during graduate school when I ran The PubClub, I developed it into what we in science call an S.O.P. (standard operating procedure).
The first step is defining your career objective through reflection and exploration. Who am I? What am I most passionate about? What careers best align with my interests?
The next step is strategically working towards becoming the most attractive candidate for your dream position by defining “The Void,” which is the gap between the skills you need and the skills you have. It can be scary to look at everything in The Void, but also necessary to begin tackling it strategically.
For example, I went to a scientific conference to present my research, but because of my work with The Pub Club was invited to co-host a communication workshop. I didn’t yet know how this would specifically fit with my career path, but it matched my passion and helped fill The Void, so I did both.
During my time running The Pub Club, and now The Community of Minds (TheCOM), I have encouraged others to do the same. I have had many students tell me they are where they are because “it was just the next thing to do.” It is frustrating and a bit scary trying to make big decisions about your life with such limited information. There are so many factors outside of our control.
In a nutshell, Strategic Career Management helps to minimize the anxiety we all face due to the factors we can’t control by giving us things we can control. It is a flexible road map towards an uncertain destination in a purposeful direction.
The key is looking forward to where you want to go. That place may be vague at times, as it was when I returned to school to get a PhD. That place may change, as it did for me several times moving from strictly research to helping others take ownership of and direct the education phase of their career. But I ultimately landed my dream job by treating every decision as strategically important towards reaching that goal.
"The first step is defining your career objective. Who am I? What am I most passionate about? [Next is] strategically becoming the most attractive candidate for your dream position..."
How did all of that bring you back to MSU as an instructor?
I wanted to see if I could build a career applying this Strategic Career Management approach in a learning environment. I also wanted to focus on the undergraduate level where I could impact more people earlier in the scientific training process.
So, I reached out to faculty at Calvin College to build my community and, after sharing some of my ideas, we decided to pilot TheCOM’s Educative Research Initiative there. I designed my research project for two freshman biology laboratory courses and spent all last year teaching their students with this integrated approach - career, community and research.
I discovered that an integrated learning position was where my unique path had led me. I had found a way to apply my passion.
Just as the program was wrapping up, this position opened at MSU and it was exactly what I had been doing at Calvin College. I couldn’t have found a better fit. The bonus is I will be working with people who want to do this type of educating at MSU. Besides using authentic research as a tool to teach, I will also apply the same scientific method to teaching. We can hypothesize on teaching methods and measure what works and what doesn’t. This first year I will be learning the ropes and becoming a part of my new BioSci community. I am excited for both what I can contribute to and what I can learn from my new team.
In the end, I am proof that tapping into your community can help you achieve your goals. A Strategic Career Management approach may produce a “unique plan,” but that plan will lead you to fulfilling your passion. As I have said before, I decided who I wanted to be, and then I was that person on purpose!